Tuesday, October 28, 2008

31 DAYS OF FRIGHT: They Always Destroy Everything!

I just finished watching 1964's THE EVIL OF FRANKENSTEIN on the eight film Hammer Horror Series two-disc set and while my disc didn't freeze up or fail to play like some viewers have reported, I must say that I was underwhelmed by this third entry in the Hammer Frankenstein cycle.

After a nicely sinister opening featuring a body being stolen from a wake in front of a child's eyes, Baron Frankenstein (series stalwart Peter Cushing) sets about removing and then reanimating the corpse's still warm heart. A nosy parish priest bursts into the Baron's lab and starts going all smashy smashy, sending the scientist and his assistant Hans (Sandor Eles) in search of new digs. When Frankenstein suggests they return to Karlstaad, the town he was banned from a decade ago, even Hans seems to realize it's a move so dumb it goes beyond brazen.

Though the old castle has fallen into disrepair, overgrown with vines, covered in cobwebs and debris, Frankenstein is able to get the lab back into shape as he relates to Hans why he was driven from the city in the first place. Unfortunately, the tale doesn't jibe with events from the first two films in the series and we get the first taste of what seems like a watered-down Universalizing of the sinister Hammer tales before and after this installment.

Eventually, creature and creator are reuinted but not without the help of a mute beggar girl (the aptly named Katy Wild) and a sinister hypnotist (Peter Woodthorpe) whose designs on the creature aren't exactly scientific in nature.

What I like about the rest of the Hammer-Steins is that they're so very unlike the boringly repetitive Universal Frankenstein pix. They never feel compelled to have the same creature from film to film and the true "monster" of the series is the Baron himself, a point driven home in the series highpoint, 1969's FRANKENSTEIN MUST BE DESTROYED.

EVIL seems to pander to that Universal mindset a bit too much with the Baron not even being the villain here. He's almost benign compared to the other representations of the character, not to mention a bit of a dunderhead, too. Many of his actions feel completely out of character from what we'd seen before and he seems intent on drawing attention to himself thanks to his fixation on such things as his ring, bed and clothes.

Worse yet, after the strong opening the first half hour is such a series of despreate machinations to get to the plot contrivance of finding the monster in the Saran Wrap "glacier" that it goes beyond the inherent implausibility of the concept. Add in crappy Universal-inspired monster makeup that looks like a bad Herman Munster and the worst rear projection ever as Cushing drives the horse cart and this is one not so EVIL flick that could have remained unwatched as far as I'm concerned.

It does, however, answer the burning question "What kind of drunk is Frankenstein's monster?".

The answer? A really bad, mean one.

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